What Does a Spelunker Do (and How Do You Get Into Spelunking)?

A spelunker is someone who enjoys spelunking meaning—exploring wild cave systems. The term spelunking, commonly used in the United States and Canada, is synonymous with caving and is also known as potholing in the United Kingdom and Ireland. The best way to get into spelunking is to start going on supervised tours in caves near your area. This will usually be led by experts and does not involve strenuous activity.
What Does a Spelunker Do

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There are several types of options for touring, so be sure to select the one that best suits your preferences and capabilities. It is also encouraged to then join caving clubs that help educate you about advanced caving skills. These and guide expeditions into caves that aren’t otherwise accessible to the public. You will slowly learn more about caves and the more you will become intrigued.

What Does Spelunker Mean?

A spelunker is someone who explores caves for fun and leisure. Spelunkers are commonly referred to as inexperienced cavers who see the sport of caving as a hobby.

They often go underground caving for recreation. Put simply, spelunkers see caving as a leisure activity rather than a scientific adventure.

Where Does the Term Spelunker Come From?

The term spelunker was derived from the classical Latin word spēlunca which means “cave”.

The Latin word spēlunca was borrowed from the Greek word spêlynx which also means “cave”.

What is the Difference Between Spelunkers and Cave Divers?

Below is a table that explains the difference between spelunkers and cave divers:

Spelunkers Cave Divers
Explores wild cave systems located above ground Explores caves that are submerged underwater
Does not necessarily have proper training as they go caving for entertainment purposes Are required to obtain proper training before they can go on a cave diving trip

Why Is It Called Spelunking?

In the United States, the term dates back to the 1940s. How it came to be called “spelunking” is unclear. These days, the majority of the people in the caving community rarely use the terms “spelunking” or “spelunker” anymore.

Most prefer the words “caving” or “caver” as it is widely regarded to be more acceptable. Moreover, the words “speleology” and “speleologist” are used by professional cave explorers who are also scientists.

Is Spelunking a Sport?

Although spelunking is widely regarded as the exploration of caves for recreation by amateurs, it is still considered a sport globally. It is the social sport of discovering caves for entertainment purposes that are usually done as a group and led by a professional.

Spelunking is not an easy sport. If you are not sufficiently prepared, things can go very wrong in a short amount of time which is why it is essential to receive proper training before going on a spelunking trip.

How Dangerous is Spelunking?

The sport can be dangerous to a certain extent. However, with the right preparation and strict adherence to safety, this extreme sport can be as fun and enjoyable as a normal walkthrough.

Spelunking can range from a light exercise stroll and climb to an intense and physically exhausting trip. Before you go spelunking, you should know how difficult the cave you are going into might be. You should also consider whether you are physically and mentally capable of doing it.

Why is Spelunking Dangerous?

Listed down below are a few reasons why spelunking is dangerous:

  • Tripping: don’t rely on your understanding of the cave to avoid tripping. Circumstances can change when you enter the cave. Always ensure that your light is sufficiently bright to light the way.
  • Falling: poor footing is one of the common reasons why people fall when they go caving. Jumping and uncontrolled sliding down slopes should be avoided and proper footwear should be worn to minimize the risk of falling.
  • Flooding: it’s best to avoid going on a spelunking trip when it’s raining as caves may flood tremendously fast.
  • Getting lost: this is one of the primary concerns of novice cavers. Caves can be very difficult to navigate. If you happen to find yourself lost and disoriented from the group, remember to stay calm and think about your previous path.
  • Getting stuck: you will encounter tight squeezes when you go spelunking. If ever you get stuck, stay composed and take time to free yourself. Don’t hesitate to ask your companions for assistance if ever you need help.
  • Contaminated Air: most caves are generally believed to have air polluted with one substance or another when in reality, less than 1% of known caves contain bad air.
  • Elevated Carbon Dioxide Levels: 5% carbon dioxide is a high enough concentration to cause extreme discomfort and limit strenuous exercise. However, when enough oxygen is sufficient, the human body can tolerate concentrations as high as 30% carbon dioxide.
  • Hypoxia: in some caves or cave sections, low oxygen levels were usually reported in small spaces or holes set low. Hypoxia, which is characterized as oxygen deficiency in body tissues, is experienced by the human body that does not receive enough oxygen.
  • Rockfall: while caves are usually highly stable, there is often loose debris and rock in the area around the entrance. When entering caves, especially virgin caves, cavers must pay close attention to unstable rock and debris.

To lessen the risk of these accidents, proper training should be acquired and equipment should be tested before entering a cave. Always put your and your companions’ safety first when you go on a spelunking trip. It’s better to be extra cautious than to injure yourself.

How Do You Start Spelunking?

You can start spelunking by going on beginner trips and training opportunities. If you are adventurous and haven’t tried spelunking, try giving it a shot. This might be the sport for you, who knows!

You only need a few things to go on your first spelunking trip. This includes the appropriate equipment, gear, and of course, a cave to explore.

What Do You Need to Go Spelunking?

To go on your first spelunking trip, you won’t be needing much. Here’s a list of necessary spelunking gear and equipment:

  • Helmet
  • Lighting
  • Footwear
  • Warm and Appropriate Clothes
  • Protective padding
  • Backpack
  • Ropes (if necessary)
  • Sustenance
  • First Aid Kit

What Do You Wear for Spelunking?

This varies hugely depending on where you plan to go caving. In some places, most caves are wet caves therefore it is cold and humid. You might want to wear warm and light clothes preferably ones that are made with water-resistant fabric. Of course, you must also wear a solid helmet with a headlamp, a sturdy pair of footwear, and some gloves.

If you are going someplace where the humidity is low and the temperature is high, you might want to consider wearing thin clothes. Keep in mind that you should be comfortable in what you’re wearing when you go spelunking. Spelunking trips involve a lot of moving around so wearing clothing that will not restrain your mobility will be highly advantageous.

Where Can You Go Spelunking?

There are a lot of caves in the world where you can go spelunking. In the United States alone about 17,000 caves have been found and many more have yet to be discovered. Listed down below are some of the most fascinating places in the world to go spelunking.


  • Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park – Palawan, Philippines
  • Son Doong Cave – Vietnam
  • Hobbit cave – Flores, Indonesia
  • Chiang Dao Cave – Chiang Mai, Thailand
  • Gunung Mulu National Park – Sarawak Malaysia


  • Blue Caves – Zakynthos, Greece
  • Eisriesenwelt – Werfen, Austria
  • Blue Grotto – Qrendi, Malta
  • Drach Caves – Majorca, Spain
  • Trollkirka Caves – Møre og Romsdal, Norway

The Americas:

  • Mammoth Cave – Kentucky, United States
  • Meramec Caverns – Missouri, United States
  • Marvel Cave -Missouri, United States
  • Ape Caves – Washington, United States
  • Ellison’s Cave – Georgia, United States

It is recommended to start by going on guided cave tours if you want to begin your spelunking journey. These types of trips are generally accompanied by professionals, so as long as you strictly obey the rules, you’ll be fine.

Why is Missouri Called a Spelunker’s Paradise?

Missouri is called a spelunker’s paradise because it has over 6000 explored caves containing fossil remains, stalagmites, stalactites, and cave life. Missouri’s tourist map is also often referred to as a geopolitical map.

Although the majority of the caves are visited on foot, some have jeep-pulled trolleys, like Fantastic Caverns.